- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hundreds of students gathered at a University of Maryland at College Park lecture hall Monday night for the screening of a pornographic film in protest of a threat by a state senator to cut funding if the film was shown on school property.

The university student union had organized an official screening of the hard-core porn film “Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge” at the school's Hoff Theater last week as part of a nationwide discussion on pornography. But when the legislature got word of the event during a debate on the state budget, lawmakers threatened to deprive the school of $424 million in state funding if the viewing was not called off. Campus officials cancelled the screening shortly thereafter.

In response, a group of students decided to screen portions of the film Monday at Susquehanna Hall, a lecture hall in the university's English department that holds about 150 people. To keep the screening in an educational context, students also brought faculty members and representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union to speak before the screening on the issue of free speech.

“Is that not education? Is a professor giving a freedom of speech lecture prior to the screening not education?” said Kenton Stalder, a junior English major, who organized the screening along with other members of his campus political party, the Student Power Party.

The students revealed the location of the screening at a 6:30 p.m. press conference on campus and by 7 p.m., when the lecture and screening were scheduled to start, an overflow crowd had gathered in and around the hall.

Sen. Andrew P. Harris, Baltimore County Republican, who threatened school funding if the film was shown, said that he was not confident the university would take action against a student-sponsored screening, which he said should be treated “very differently” from the university-sponsored viewing that was to take place last week.

“I think they [the students] are going in the right direction. I just hope that they act responsibly and realize this is a serious issue,” he said.

Mr. Harris said Monday he plans to insert language in the state's capital budget that would require the university to come up with a plan that will address the health and social concerns that are attributed to pornography, in the event an adult film is ever showcased on campus again.

David Rocah, a legal expert for the Maryland chapter of the ACLU who was scheduled to speak before the screening, said that regardless of the content of the film it sets a very dangerous precedent for the legislature to censor material it doesn't approve of.

“Senator Harris' threat was incredibly dangerous and unbelievably short-sighted. It's more disturbing than the film itself,” he said.

University officials said that they would respect the students' right to hold the screening and the discussion, so long as it had an educational component. “Discussion on topics such as this are characteristic of a vibrant educational community,” university spokesman Millree Williams said.

Student leaders say that they found the legislature's original decision “appalling” and that it may have increased student interest in viewing the film rather than discouraging it.

“Not showing the movie did nothing to prevent students from viewing it, but created a challenge and generated more publicity for the movie than lawmakers preferred,” said Lisa Crisalli, a sophomore psychology major and member of the student government.

Student body president and junior politics major Jonathan Sachs said that although he did not think organizing an alternative screening on campus was appropriate, the original ban did constitute a violation of free-speech rights.

“That's the glory of living in America - that you can say what you want even if others don't agree with it,” he said.


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